Domains 2019 Reflections from Afar

My OPML Domains Project

Not being able to attend Domains 2019 in person, I was bound and determined to attend as much of it as I could manage remotely. A lot of this revolved around following the hashtag for the conference, watching the Virtually Connecting sessions, interacting online, and starting to watch the archived videos after-the-fact. Even with all of this, for a while I had been meaning to flesh out my ability to follow the domains (aka websites) of other attendees and people in the space. Currently the easiest way (for me) to do this is via RSS with a feed reader, so I began collecting feeds of those from the Twitter list of Domains ’17 and Domains ’19 attendees as well as others in the education-related space who tweet about A Domain of One’s Own or IndieWeb. In some sense, I would be doing some additional aggregation work on expanding my blogroll, or, as I call it now, my following page since it’s much too large and diverse to fit into a sidebar on my website.

For some brief background, my following page is built on some old functionality in WordPress core that has since been hidden. I’m using the old Links Manager for collecting links and feeds of people, projects, groups, and institutions. This link manager creates standard OPML files, which WordPress can break up by categories, that can easily be imported/exported into most standard feed readers. Even better, some feed readers like Inoreader, support OPML subscriptions, so one could subscribe to my OPML file, and any time I update it in the future with new subscriptions, your feed reader would automatically update to follow those as well. I use this functionality in my own Inoreader account, so that any new subscriptions I add to my own site are simply synced to my feed reader without needing to be separately added or updated.

The best part of creating such a list and publishing it in a standard format is that you, dear reader, don’t need to spend the several hours I did to find, curate, and compile the list to recreate it for yourself, but you can now download it, modify it if necessary, and have a copy for yourself in just a few minutes. (Toward that end, I’m also happy to update it or make additions if others think it’s missing anyone interesting in the space–feedback, questions, and comments are heartily encouraged.) You can see a human-readable version of the list at this link, or find the computer parse-able/feed reader subscribe-able link here.

To make it explicit, I’ll also note that these lists also help me to keep up with people and changes in the timeframe between conferences.

Anecdotal Domains observations

In executing this OPML project I noticed some interesting things about the Domains community at large (or at least those who are avid enough to travel and attend in person or actively engage online). I’ll lay these out below. Perhaps at a future date, I’ll do a more explicit capture of the data with some analysis.

The largest majority of sites I came across were, unsurprisingly, WordPress-based, which made it much easier to find RSS feeds to read/consume material. I could simply take a domain name and add /feed/ to the end of the URL, and voilà, a relatively quick follow!

There are a lot of people whose sites didn’t have obvious links to their feeds. To me this is a desperate tragedy for the open web. We’re already behind the eight ball compared to social media and corporate controlled sites, why make it harder for people to read/consume our content from our own domains? And as if to add insult to injury, the places on one’s website where an RSS feed link/icon would typically live were instead populated by links to corporate social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In a few cases I also saw legacy links to Google+ which ended service and disappeared from the web along with a tremendous number of online identities and personal data on April 2, 2019. (Here’s a reminder to remove those if you’ve forgotten.) For those who are also facing this problem, there’s a fantastic service called SubToMe that has a universal follow button that can be installed or which works well with a browser bookmarklet and a wide variety of feed readers.

I was thrilled to see a few people were using interesting alternate content management systems/site generators like WithKnown and Grav. There were  also several people who had branched out to static site generators (sites without a database). This sort of plurality is a great thing for the community and competition in the space for sites, design, user experience, etc. is awesome. It’s thrilling to see people in the Domains space taking advantage of alternate options, experimenting with them, and using them in the wild.

I’ll note that I did see a few poor souls who were using Wix. I know there was at least one warning about Wix at the conference, but in case it wasn’t stated explicitly, Wix does not support exporting data, which makes any potential future migration of sites difficult. Definitely don’t use it for any extended writing, as cutting and pasting more than a few simple static pages becomes onerous. To make matters worse, Wix doesn’t offer any sort of back up service, so if they chose to shut your site off for any reason, you’d be completely out of luck. No back up + no export = I couldn’t recommend using.

If your account or any of your services are cancelled, it may result in loss of content and data. You are responsible to back up your data and materials. —Wix Terms of Use

I also noticed a few people had generic domain names that they didn’t really own (and not even in the sense of rental ownership). Here I’m talking about domain names of the form username.domainsproject.com. While I’m glad that they have a domain that they can use and generally control, it’s not one that they can truly exert full ownership over. (They just can’t pick it up and take it with them.) Even if they could export/import their data to another service or even a different content management system, all their old links would immediately disappear from the web. In the case of students, while it’s nice that their school may provide this space, it is more problematic for data portability and longevity on the web that they’ll eventually lose that institutional domain name when they graduate. On the other hand, if you have something like yourname.com as your digital home, you can export/import, change content management services, hosting companies, etc. and all your content will still resolve and you’ll be imminently more find-able by your friends and colleagues. This choice is essentially the internet equivalent of changing cellular providers from Sprint to AT&T but taking your phone number with you–you may change providers, but people will still know where to find you without being any the wiser about your service provider changes. I think that for allowing students and faculty the ability to more easily move their content and their sites, Domains projects should require individual custom domains.

If you don’t own/control your physical domain name, you’re prone to lose a lot of value built up in your permalinks. I’m also reminded of here of the situation encountered by faculty who move from one university to another. (Congratulations by the way to Martha Burtis on the pending move to Plymouth State. You’ll notice she won’t face this problem.)  There’s also the situation of Matthew Green, a security researcher at Johns Hopkins whose institutional website was taken down by his university when the National Security Agency flagged an apparent issue. Fortunately in his case, he had his own separate domain name and content on an external server and his institutional account was just a mirrored copy of his own domain.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
—Mel Brooks from The Producers (1968), obviously with the it being a referent to A Domain of One’s Own.

Also during my project, I noted that quite a lot of people don’t list their own personal/professional domains within their Twitter or other social media profiles. This seems a glaring omission particularly for at least one whose Twitter bio creatively and proactively claims that they’re an avid proponent of A Domain of One’s Own.

And finally there were a small–but still reasonable–number of people within the community for whom I couldn’t find their domain at all! A small number assuredly are new to the space or exploring it, and so I’d give a pass, but I was honestly shocked that some just didn’t.

(Caveat: I’ll freely admit that the value of Domains is that one has ultimate control including the right not to have or use one or even to have a private, hidden, and completely locked down one, just the way that Dalton chose not to walk in the conformity scene in The Dead Poet’s Society. But even with this in mind, how can we ethically recommend this pathway to students, friends, and colleagues if we’re not willing to participate ourselves?)

Too much Twitter & a challenge for the next Domains Conference

One of the things that shocked me most at a working conference about the idea of A Domain of One’s Own within education where there was more than significant time given to the ideas of privacy, tracking, and surveillance, was the extent that nearly everyone present gave up their identity, authority, and digital autonomy to Twitter, a company which actively represents almost every version of the poor ethics, surveillance, tracking, and design choices we all abhor within the edtech space.

Why weren’t people proactively using their own domains to communicate instead? Why weren’t their notes, observations, highlights, bookmarks, likes, reposts, etc. posted to their own websites? Isn’t that part of what we’re in all this for?!

One of the shining examples from Domains 2019 that I caught as it was occurring was John Stewart’s site where he was aggregating talk titles, abstracts, notes, and other details relevant to himself and his practice. He then published them in the open and syndicated the copies to Twitter where the rest of the conversation seemed to be happening. His living notebook– or digital commmonplace book if you will–is of immense value not only to him, but to all who are able to access it. But you may ask, “Chris, didn’t you notice them on Twitter first?” In fact, I did not! I caught them because I was following the live feed of some of the researchers, educators, and technologists I follow in my feed reader using the OPML files mentioned above. I would submit, especially as a remote participant/follower of the conversation, that his individual posts were worth 50 or more individual tweets. Just the additional context they contained made them proverbially worth their weight in gold.

Perhaps for the next conference, we might build a planet or site that could aggregate all the feeds of people’s domains using their categories/tags or other means to create our own version of the Twitter stream? Alternately, by that time, I suspect that work on some of the new IndieWeb readers will have solidified to allow people to read feeds and interact with that content directly and immediately in much the way Twitter works now except that all the interaction will occur on our own domains.

As educators, one of the most valuable things we can and should do is model appropriate behavior for students. I think it’s high time that when attending a professional conference about A Domain of One’s Own that we all ought to be actively doing it using our own domains. Maybe we could even quit putting our Twitter handles on our slides, and just put our domain names on them instead?

Of course, I wouldn’t and couldn’t suggest or even ask others to do this if I weren’t willing and able to do it myself.  So as a trial and proof of concept, I’ve actively posted all my interactions related to Domains 2019 that I was interested in to my own website using the tag Domains 2019.  At that URL, you’ll find all the things I liked and bookmarked, as well as the bits of conversation on Twitter and others’ sites that I’ve commented on or replied to. All of it originated on my own domain, and, when it appeared on Twitter, it was syndicated only secondarily so that others would see it since that was where the conversation was generally being aggregated. You can almost go back and recreate my entire Domains 2019 experience in real time by following my posts, notes, and details on my personal website.

So, next time around can we make an attempt to dump Twitter!? The technology for pulling it off certainly already exists, and is reasonably well-supported by WordPress, WithKnown, Grav, and even some of the static site generators I noticed in my brief survey above. (Wix obviously doesn’t even come close…)

I’m more than happy to help people build and flesh out the infrastructure necessary to try to make the jump. Even if just a few of us began doing it, we could serve as that all-important model for others as well as for our students and other constituencies. With a bit of help and effort before the next Domains Conference, I’ll bet we could collectively pull it off. I think many of us are either well- or even over-versed in the toxicities and surveillance underpinnings of social media, learning management systems, and other digital products in the edtech space, but now we ought to attempt a move away from it with an infrastructure that is our own–our Domains.

❤️ btopro tweeted expect a lot of #domains19 thoughts today and tomorrow. It’ll be a mixed bag as far as thoughts and rephrasing what people say here. I haven’t been to a non code focused event in far too long. It’s nice already to hear critiques of the LMS as a concept leading to many other issue

Liked Bryan ✻llendyke on Twitter (Twitter)
Replied to a tweet by Laura GibbsLaura Gibbs (Twitter)

I’m curious if you use Inoreader’s OPML subscription functionality at all? It’s kind of like Twitter lists in a sense, but a lot more open and distributed.

Much like your version piped into an LMS, it could be used used to create a planet of all of the participants in a course, but set up in such a way that only one person needs to create and maintain an OPML file that everyone else can use instead of needing to manually find and subscribe to a bunch of feeds or worry about missing out on that one feed of the student who joined the course two weeks late.

As an example, here’s an OPML file on my own website (through my following page) of all the educators I’m following who are tangentially involved in the IndieWeb movement. If you subscribe to the OPML file in Inoreader, when I update it with additional feeds, you get all the changes synced automatically.

I’d be interested to see exactly how you’re using Inoreader–particularly the off-label methods. Have you written up any of the details anywhere? It looks like you’re using tags in Inoreader and piping those details back to the LMS so that you can filter portions of the class content?

I recently documented some of my personal use here: Using Inoreader as an IndieWeb feed reader. A big portion of it is about being able to use Inoreader to interact within its interface, but also have those interactions reflected on my own website (aka digital commonplace book) which sends notifications to the original content on the web instead of just leaving it siloed within Inoreader.

👓 Hypothesis Launches App to Bring Annotation to Learning Management Systems | Hypothes.is

Read Hypothesis Launches App to Bring Annotation to Learning Management Systems by Jeremy Dean (Hypothes.is)

We are excited to announce the official launch of the Hypothesis LMS app. Thanks to the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard, Hypothesis now integrates with all major LTI-compliant Learning Management Systems, including Instructure Canvas, Blackboard Learn, D2L Brightspace, Moodle, and Sakai. We will be testing other platforms, including MOOC-providers like Coursera and edX in the coming weeks and months.

With this release, Hypothesis is better prepared to support the strong adoption we already see in teaching and learning. Students and teachers are a majority of the nearly 200 thousand annotators who have created over 4.3 million annotations using Hypothesis. The new LMS integration means teachers can bring collaborative annotation in their classrooms seamlessly as a part of their normal workflow.

Reply to Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use by Tannis Morgan

Replied to Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use by Tannis MorganTannis Morgan (Explorations in the EdTech World)
Here’s the short of it. LMS’s do some things really well and are not going to go away. We still use an LMS at our institution, and while I would really like the vendor to invest some of our hard earned license fees into making it a more user friendly tool, we still need an LMS. However, I’ve tried really hard to make sure our online strategy does not start and finish with the LMS, and yes, it is an ongoing battle.

This article presents an excellent point. I also see a lot of what I would call IndieWeb philosophy bubbling up within this argument, and perhaps the edtech space could benefit from some of their ideas, set up, and design?  If you like, we could take the analogy IndieWeb:Social Silos::Educational Technology:Learning Management Systems and extend it.

Much like the demise of the innovation on the web and within the blogosphere as the result of the commodification of social media by silo corporations like Facebook, Twitter, and others around 2006, the technology space in education has become too addicted to corporate products and services. Many of these services cover some broad functionality, but they have generally either slowed down or quit innovating, quit competing with each other, are often charging exorbitant prices, and frequently doing unethical things with the data they receive from their users. The major difference between the two spaces is that Big Social Media is doing it on a much bigger scale and making a lot more money and creating greater damage as a result.

Instead, let me make some recommendations to thought leaders in the space for more humanistic and holistic remedy. Follow the general philosophies and principles of the IndieWeb movement. Dump (or at least gradually move away from) your corporately built LMS and start building one of your own. Ideally, open source what you build so that others can improve it and build upon it. In the end, you, your classes, your departments, and your institutions will be all the stronger for it. You can have more direct control over your own data (and that of your students, which deserves to be treated more ethically). You can build smaller independent pieces that are interchangeable and inter-operable. The small pieces may also allow new unpredictable functionalities when put together. You can build to make better user interfaces, better functionality, and get what you’d like to have instead of just what you’re given.

Sure, doing this may be somewhat uncomfortable in the near term, but many hands over many institutions, building and crafting a variety of solutions will result in a much better and more robust product–and one that we all can “own” and benefit from. By open sourcing, many hands will make light work. Imagine what the state of online learning, Open Educational Resources (OER), and open pedagogy would look like if the hundreds of institutions had put all of their LMS related funding over the past decade into even a handful of open source programmers instead of corporately controlled interests?

Already within the article, there is a short list of potential solutions one could look to as LMS replacements. Those that are open source are literally crying out to not only be used, but to be improved upon so that everyone can benefit from those improvements. Other related options might include

For solid examples of what can be accomplished, we can also look toward individual developers like Stephen Downes and projects like gRSShopper or Alan Levine and his many open source repositories. There are also individuals like Greg McVerry, who is using free and opensource content management systems like WordPress and WithKnown to push the envelope of what is possible with classroom interactions using simple internet protocols like Webmention, Micropub, WebSub, and bleeding edge readers using MicroSub, and Robin DeRosa, who is creating her own OER materials. These are just a few of thousands of individuals hacking away at small, but discrete problems and then helping out others.

At the higher end we can see broad movements like A Domain of One’s Own (DoOO), which empowers students students and faculty by giving them their own domain names and hosting as well as web-based tools to leverage these benefits. (I often look at the DoOO movement as IndieWeb for Education, but without as much emphasis on building for oneself.)

There are even ethical companies like Reclaim Hosting who are doing some excellent and tremendous work in the DoOO space. The benefit of the way these systems are built and maintained however, is that should Reclaim cease offering their excellent support, benefits, and add-ons, individuals or institutions could relatively easily take all of their data and applications and move them to another provider. This provides a massive incentive for service companies to continue iterating and improving on their work as well as the services they offer. Sadly, some of these mechanisms don’t exist this way within much of the corporate LMS space. But they certainly could and should.

For those who are interested, feel free to do some research into some of these areas and tools. Join the DoOO or IndieWeb.org communities. Build your own tools, give feedback to developers of opensource projects to help them improve. Give them some of your time and resources to make these communities and spaces better and stronger over time. Feel free to join the IndieWeb chat to meet folks virtually and discuss these ideas, or use the IndieWeb wiki (the IndieWeb for Education page is an excellent place to start) to not only read, but to contribute back ideas, tools, links, and resources for others. (The wiki has a CC0 license.)

I’m always happy to help people begin to find their way in some of these resources if they need it to get started.

👓 Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use | homonym.ca

Read Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use by Tannis MorganTannis Morgan (Explorations in the EdTech World)
Here’s the short of it. LMS’s do some things really well and are not going to go away. We still use an LMS at our institution, and while I would really like the vendor to invest some of our hard earned license fees into making it a more user friendly tool, we still need an LMS. However, I’ve tried really hard to make sure our online strategy does not start and finish with the LMS, and yes, it is an ongoing battle.

👓 The role of the faculty in the post-LMS world (opinion) | Inside Higher Ed

Read The role of the faculty in the post-LMS world (opinion) (Inside Higher Ed)
If it isn’t already, the learning management system will soon be obsolete, Jonathan Rees argues. Let’s replace it in ways that treat professors like the professionals they are.

This article has the flavor of IndieWeb about it…

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

The real internet is structured by myriad people with different aesthetics and different needs. Online course design decisions should reflect the instructor’s individuality in the same way that everyone else’s webpages do.  

September 26, 2018 at 05:22PM

Third, the post-LMS world should protect the pedagogical prerogatives and intellectual property rights of faculty members at all levels of employment. This means, for example, that contingent faculty should be free to take the online courses they develop wherever they happen to be teaching. Similarly, professors who choose to tape their own lectures should retain exclusive rights to those tapes. After all, it’s not as if you have to turn over your lecture notes to your old university whenever you change jobs.  

Own your pedagogy. Send just like anything else out there…
September 26, 2018 at 05:27PM